Tag Archives: Travel and Allergies

Travelling in the Winter with Allergies

When people travel in the winter, most of them head to somewhere warm like Florida, Jamaica, or Mexico. I’ve always been the odd one out – I’ve never been interested in going somewhere warm and relaxing on a beach. I moved to Finland when I was 19 and spent a year living in its lovely northern coolness, preferring the forest hikes and rocky ground over a sandy beach. The winter was another realm of newness for me, where the sun disappeared for three months and the country became a bit less lively. Naturally, this meant I had to explore. You know what is even better than living in a northern country during the winter? Going even further north, to its most northern region!

My friends and I went on an official exchange student tour to Levi, a small ski-resort town in Lapland. Have you seen the video floating around Facebook of glass-roofed igloos you can sleep in while watching the northern lights? That’s Lapland, and it’s every bit as beautiful in person! Instead of the glass-roofed igloos, we chose a much more affordable winter cabin to stay in, partially because they had their own kitchens and I could prepare my own food. Who knows what kind of restaurants are around in the arctic, and I found it easier to book an accommodation with a kitchen than to try and contact restaurants in advance.  I had heard from friends who had gone to Lapland previously that food in grocery stores is expensive there, so I packed some extra food from the south to take with me. I also packed my own dish soap and sponges for the kitchen, so I didn’t have to worry about finding any there once we arrived if the cabin didn’t have any. We found a grocery store to get some fresh produce, but otherwise I had brought precooked meals and snacks with me.

While there, I managed to find a restaurant that was amazing for the management of my food allergies (peanuts and soy). There aren’t many choices for restaurants in Levi, and most of them serve similar dishes to one another, so I wasn’t holding my breath on being able to eat out (hence why I packed so much food). My friend and I were able to find a locally-supplied reindeer restaurant, where all of the dishes featured some component of reindeer. I really wanted to try reindeer, since I knew there was a low-risk of a reaction for me and it was locally sourced. The waitress and chef were knowledgeable about food allergies and the waitress was able to translate my questions into Finnish to make sure the chef understood. In the future, I’ve made sure to travel with translation cards, but at the time, I fully trusted this chef’s knowledge of food allergies and the waitress’s translations. My friend and I split a massive reindeer burger, and I didn’t have a reaction! Allergy win!

Because the local culture relies so heavily on the wild reindeer, a lot of the tourist activities have to do with reindeer in some way. I went on a reindeer safari with a friend, where we were in a sled led by a reindeer. Afterwards, the reindeer’s owner brought us to her cabin for a warm drink and some cookies. She grabbed a fresh package of cookies for me, to minimize cross contamination, and since they were cookies I had eaten before and had checked the ingredients on, I was okay with eating them from a new package. We also went to a museum that had an outdoor reindeer park, where you could feed reindeer! The owners of the reindeer could confirm the feed for the reindeer was safe for me to handle, as it was just dried moss, but offered me a pair of plastic gloves to put over my own gloves if it would make me feel better. I fed a lot of reindeer, and I’m not sure if they were more excited to be fed or if I was more excited to feed them (see the photo? Not sure who is more excited). Overall, the week was fun and reaction free, and totally worth the little bit of stress that packing extra food caused.

 

In addition to Lapland, I’ve also travelled to Iceland during the middle of February. Preparing for that trip was a bit different, because I was going with a friend who is a Type 1 Diabetic who had never travelled before, and we needed to make sure we planned our excursions with her eating times in mind. The flights we found were such a good deal, so we couldn’t pass them up. We made a schedule for our tours, packed a bunch of easy-to-prep meals and snacks we could take with us during tours, found a small Airbnb© apartment with a kitchen, researched some restaurants that had nutrition information for her and allergen information for me, and headed over to Reykjavik for three days.

Once we got there, everything we had planned fell apart. Iceland experienced the worst storm it had had in 100 years, every road in the country was closed for two days, two of three tours were cancelled, buses couldn’t get driven on the hills within Reykjavik, buses to the Blue Lagoon fell completely off the roads, grocery stores were running low on supplies, emergency services couldn’t get anywhere in the country …you get the idea. The storm didn’t stop for the entire three days we were there and the snow was past my waist when we left.

Thankfully we had packed a suitcase full of food for ourselves, so I didn’t need to worry about a reaction to a new food or us not having enough food for my diabetic friend. We had researched restaurants beforehand, so we knew exactly where to go in Reykjavik if we ran out of food at the apartment. Allergies or weather, nothing held me back from visiting Iceland’s Viking-age longhouses! It’s a truly beautiful country, and we got to experience it in a unique blanket of snow not many people will ever experience. We even found some nice Icelandic dogs to pet!

Even when you have a perfectly planned trip, things can go sideways. Usually it’s not the-worst-storm-in-a-century type of issue, but being prepared, having an open mind, and having a backup plan is key. My advice is to bring extra food no matter where you’re going (sunny or snowy!), have a clear idea of what you will need to do in an emergency, make sure you have valid travel insurance that covers food allergies, and make sure you have extra supplies of whatever medication you may need during your trip. If you’re going somewhere cold in the winter, make sure you have somewhere to store your auto injectors so they don’t freeze up. If you haven’t gone somewhere extra snowy during the winter months, I highly recommend it. Beaches are nice, but reindeer are nicer!

-Danielle B.

 

 

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The Caribbean with Food Allergies

Aruba, Jamaica, ooh I want to take ya…

Off the Florida Keys…to a place that’s good with allergies!

Sunshine and safety were the top two thoughts in my mind on a recent trip to the Caribbean. My family and I all opted to go to an island that we’ve always dreamed of – Aruba. We heard wonderful things about it, especially that it had consistently hot weather in January, it was safe and it had great food.

I was very hands off during the booking process, and I now regret that fact. I learned the hard way that some resorts in the Caribbean are more flexible than others in terms of providing customized meals. Most have a main dining hall with buffet style food. I’ve been to resorts before where you can simply chat with the chef and have a personalized meal made for you. This wasn’t the case for me this time around as I was at a massive resort where they couldn’t do one-off meals.  I ate in the general dining area, but played it very safe and didn’t even venture near the areas that had my allergens present.

Restaurants at resorts usually have much more flexibility in terms of creating safe meals for you from scratch. I had great success talking to wait staff and chefs at these nighttime dinners. They were very aware of allergens and made some adjustments to the menu for me.

Another thing to be alert about are drinks. You want to let loose on vacation, however you still need to be diligent. Some alcohols contain common allergens, especially some of the fruity and exotic drinks that they serve at resorts.  Check with your bartender before blindly ordering the hotel’s “drink of the day”.

Bring U.S. money. You may hear that they will accept Canadian money at the hotel, but I have now had two experiences in the Caribbean where I needed to see a doctor (non allergy related) and they wouldn’t see me unless I paid U.S. cash.  Most islands have their own currency, but U.S. money talks. Have some for an emergency on top of your travel health insurance.

I don’t have much experience with pre-packaged products, but most seemed to be imports from North America, so there are many familiar things to eat.

Once you’re ready to hit the beach, remember to bring suntan lotion from home. Not only is it likely cheaper, it’s a lot less likely to have any surprise ingredients in it.

Be sure to visit Food Allergy Canada’s travel page for more general tips and advice! www.allergytravels.com is another great resource for allergic travellers.

Bon voyage!

– Kyle D.

Adventuring with an Allergy

I love camping.

Not the kind where you drive your car to a busy park, with running water and giant RVs. I love the kind of camping where you stuff 5 days of food into a bag, with a tent and a compass, and take your canoe out into the wilderness.

This past fall I tried my first solo camping trip! I took a rented canoe, my dog, and headed out for five days in the backcountry. No electricity, no communication, nothing.

I was paddling along a gorgeous, calm lake, I had the whole place to myself, when it occurred to me that if anything happened I would be totally alone. Camping can be dangerous I guess. Then a second thought occurred to me, what if the last person who rented this canoe was eating peanuts? Are my hands covered in peanut residue? Is that even a thing?

In the city, I find I can easily forget about my allergy. It’s second nature to avoid certain restaurants and groceries, I wash my hands often and I know where the nearest hospital is. But out there in the woods I had a new challenge, could I do this on my own? Was I missing risks that I would never encounter at home?

Luckily for me this thought, like all others, was short lived and I was able to get back to enjoying the solitude, and majesty of nature. For me this was a great reminder about life lines and vigilance. It’s easy to take my safety for granted, but it’s never a given. For me to enjoy these adventures I have to spend a little time in advance getting ready. I talked to a pharmacist and my doctor, and made sure I was prepared for an emergency. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of a cure.

If I’m being honest, I did get a little paranoid and washed my canoe paddle at my first camp site, so I didn’t have to think about it anymore.

Having a food allergy is never going to stop me from having adventures. This trip with my dog was one of the most peaceful weeks I’ve ever experienced.

If you want to have a great time, don’t let an allergy stop you. Prepare in advance and get out there and enjoy!

– Jason B.

 

 

(Backcountry) Camping with Allergies

Route planning

I recently returned from a ten-day, 85-km hiking and backcountry camping trip in the Canadian Rockies, about 90 minutes southwest of Calgary. It was so enjoyable and the views were so magnificent! I went with three friends, one of which like myself, has life-threatening food allergies. We camped in the Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, about 30 minutes from any cell phone service so needless to say, the trip took a lot of preparation. We had to select our routes, campsites, gear, and safe food. I found that meal planning was surprisingly the most time-consuming part of the trip, especially for an adult with allergies. I have life-threatening allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, and all raw fruits and vegetables, so here’s a glimpse into my camping preparations:

Exit strategy

I am a very pragmatic individual, and since I have food allergies, I planned for the worst-case scenario. If I had an allergic reaction in the wilderness, I need to know how far I was from the nearest ambulance and hospital. This was important for our trip because we were so secluded, but I think it’s an important part of weekend camping as well. With appropriate meal planning and proper meal preparation hygiene, it is unlikely that an adult with an allergy will experience a reaction while camping, but knowing the closest healthcare facility is important because it can put one’s mind at ease. Before leaving on the trip we found that our furthest point from the trail head was 21-km and from the trail head we were 95-km from the Canmore General Hospital. We were also able to determine how many epinephrine auto-injectors to bring. Since we were quite far from healthcare services, we chose to bring a satellite phone as well, which gave us the flexibility to call for emergency services if the worst-case scenario occurred.

Overcoming previous fears

Mental preparation for this camping trip was especially difficult for myself because of a previous camping experience. In the summer of 2016, I was camping with two friends in Northern Ontario when we encountered a very large black bear. It was moving away from us into the woods, but was directly between us and the trail head. Minutes later I realized that I was having an allergic reaction. We had to get to the trail head to get to the car, but there was a bear in between us and our goal. I administered my auto-injector and we proceeded with caution towards the car, making as much noise as we possibly could to deter the bear. We made it to the car and arrived at the hospital nearly 45 minutes after my initial reaction, but not without tremendous anxiety. So the thoughts going through my head leading up to this big trip was…what if something like this happened in the Rockies?

New food exploration

I discovered my allergies in my early 20’s. I have a severe form of what’s called Oral Allergy Syndrome (OAS) and with this type of allergy, skin testing is not effective at elucidating allergens. I kept having allergic reactions to food I previously ate without concern. This method of uncovering allergens can be stressful because I felt that nothing was safe. Since discovering my allergies, exploring new foods has always been difficult. I used to avoid new foods altogether, but honestly that’s quite a boring way to live. So, I began incorporating new foods into my diet, trying them in safe places (in a doctor’s office, or at a hospital, or if you have easy access, at the allergist’s office), and now I try them at home with my epinephrine auto-injector in-hand. I felt that in the wilderness camping, I would be alright with my prepared food as long as I had my emergency plans in place (auto injector, satellite phone, and an escape route) since I only brought food that I was comfortable eating and 100% sure about.

Medication preparation

So, now that I had my escape route planned and the information about the closest healthcare facilities noted, I knew that the furthest I would be away from medical services at minimum was 12 hours hiking and 90 minutes driving. To be safe, I doubled this estimate, and I brought enough allergy medication for just over 24 hours. As well, we made sure that not only was each member of the group aware of my allergies, but each member knew what to do in case of an emergency.

Having fun

Once all the preparation had been complete, it was time to explore the Canadian Rockies. This trip was one of the most enjoyable experiences of my life! I swam in glacier waters, I saw many different kinds of wildlife including a grizzly bear and a large buck, I experienced some of the most glorious views from mountain tops, and really learned what it takes to hike and camp in the mountains. I spent 10 days with my closest friends, experienced highs and lows (literally and figuratively), and learned to work together. With the right preparation, weekend camping and backcountry camping can be very, very enjoyable experiences, even as an adult with allergies.

– Fraser K.

Backyard Camping for Canada’s 150

In honour of Canada’s 150-year birthday, I’ve decided to try and see more of what this beautiful country has to offer. Now, this doesn’t just mean the art installations and pop up restaurants, it begrudgingly means the great outdoors; But for someone who has been watching Survivor for the past ten years, I definitely could not survive in the wild. Sleeping outside, putting up a tent, with no running water or A/C, plus a lack of Netflix, all of it sounds awful to me. Not to mention, pollen and wild flowers make me look like I’ve been crying for days. So all in all, I’d usually trade the great outdoors for a great book and a glass of wine. Although when summer comes around, we Canadians have the urge to stretch our legs and explore our own backyards after being cooped up for so many winter months. I’ve noticed a lot of people doing exactly that this year during our country’s big birthday. For me, when the mood strikes and I feel like rekindling some of my youth or exploring, I choose the simple method and camp in my backyard, a friend’s, or a cottage’s backyard. It’s no easy feat, considering the multiple food and seasonal allergies I have. But, like most things in life you prepare for the worst and hope for the best, and by doing so your backyard camping adventure is sure to be a hit.

So, you’ve decided to sleep outside, enjoying all that the outdoors has to offer with a house in clear view (just in case). It’s time to get some supplies ready to enjoy the stars and your beautiful Canadian backyard.

My first course of action is usually to get an antihistamine (Benadryl or Reaction) ready. Both play a big role in helping to keep my seasonal allergies like Pollen at bay. Try to check a weather app for pollen levels before heading outside. Avoiding itchy eyes and a runny nose is important since there isn’t usually a ready supply of tissues in your wild backyard.  A necessary tool for any camping excursion is bug spray regardless of allergies, it can help prevent bites and nasty hives/welts. If one does it make it through your shields and bites you, If you do have an insect allergy make sure the people around you are aware of what bugs can cause you to react so you can all keep a look out.

Good safe food and snacks are a must on any camping adventure, or any adventure for that matter. Whether you’re up in a mountain or in the back yard, campfire snacks and foods are key to a great time. I’m never shy about telling people about my food allergies, so when we plan a menu I ensure that all the food is safe, and prepped in an area that I trust to avoid cross contamination. Even though you’re in your backyard, you may be away from a phone, so make sure your auto-injector is near you at all times. Before you hike out to the yard, and you dive into those snacks, make sure you read the ingredients of everything you might eat twice. Ensure you trust the brands and never leave anything to chance. A good tip is to also teach those around you how to identify a reaction and how to react in case of an emergency. Teach them beforehand how to use your auto-injector and what to do in an emergency.

The last puzzle piece of a backyard camping adventure for most adults is some good beers, nice wine, or great spirits. If you’re of age and comfortable, a nice beer around a campfire can be a unique Canadian experience. To ensure a safe drink and cheers to Canada, make sure you know what you’re drinking. If you’re perusing the local craft beer section, make sure you know the ingredients (If you’re unsure you can always contact the brewery), always go with a brand you trust and when in doubt, do some research. The same rules apply for a nice glass of wine. If you enjoy a cocktail more, make sure you know what brand/type of liquor is in the drink, as well as the juices/mix. Many cocktails can have some of the top allergens in Canada as ingredients, so being prepared and knowing what you can have is important before you’re out in the backyard with only the campfire light.  Being responsible when drinking doesn’t just mean knowing your limit, it means knowing what’s safe, asking the right questions and being prepared if you have an allergy.

There is something thrilling about staring up at the night sky. The ability it has to make us feel so small in the grand scheme of things while fueling us with curiosity. Canada has some of the most beautiful landscape in the world, so what better way to start enjoying all this country has to offer then in our own backyards. Camping helps us reconnect to the wild, but for those of us who enjoy the comforts of a nice couch and a good Netflix binge, backyard camping is a way to experience the outdoors with the comforts of the home near at hand. Having food or seasonal allergies should never be a deterrent from enjoying good food, great friends, and summer experiences. Our allergies can’t hold us back if we don’t let them; Being prepared with safe foods, ingredients, and drinks you’re comfortable with, alongside the proper medication and preparation is the smart way to start off any backyard camping adventure. Throw in a bonfire and a heartfelt and rousing rendition of O’Canada and you’re well on your way to celebrating the great white north’s 150th birthday in style.

-Arianne K.

Tips for Travelling with Food Allergies

Before you Travel

Planning for the worst might seem stressful, but that’s how astronauts survive travelling out of this world. If you have allergies, it makes sense to plan out your contingencies when you travel outside of your home. Here are some pre-travel tips:

  • Know where the closest medical care is available, what it will be, what it will cost, and how to arrange to get there.
  • If travelling alone, find out how you would call for help.

When travelling with others, teach them what to do in case of a reaction. Food Allergy Canada has fabulous free online courses available at www.allergyaware.ca.

  • Get Travel Insurance. Travel Insurance is not only helpful for medical care in other countries, but also helps in case there are unforeseen reasons you need to cancel or change your flights.
  • Learn as much of the local language as possible, especially the terms associated with allergies so that you can recognize what your allergens are called, and explain yourself when you are having a reaction and need help. Hellolingo.com is one free language sharing site, and Duolingo is a great language learning app for your smartphone.
  • Make a small business card with your name, picture, and allergens in English and the translations to the local language. I also put pictures on mine when I was travelling where the literacy rate was not particularly high.
  • Plan what medications you would bring with you, by speaking with your allergist and your travel doctor if going overseas.
  • Plan where you can find safe food/snacks, and call ahead to hotels and restaurants about their food allergy accommodations if possible.
  • If you need to bring your own safe food, be sure to check customs regulations about what you can bring, and how much, to avoid your safe food being confiscated.
  • If you can, book a hotel room with a kitchen, and find out where local groceries can be purchased.

When you travel by car:

  • Bring what you need if you can! In my car have a little emergency stove, water, a camping pot, towels and soap, and dehydrated meals at all times so that I can safely make meals anywhere. I also found a portable kettle, which allows me to use any ceramic mug to boil water. It takes a long time, though…
  • Be aware of how far you’ll be from medical care, and whether there are any areas you’re driving through without cell phone coverage. Consider not eating while you are outside of cell phone coverage areas, or as an alternative, find out where the closest emergency pay phones will be, just in case.

When you travel by bus/train/plane/boat:

  • Bring your own food with you, and lots of wipes. The wipes won’t necessarily remove allergens, but at least you’ll know your eating area is disinfected.
  • Ask when booking for early boarding, so that you can wipe down your seat. Some companies will create an allergy-free buffer zone for you, while others will not. Ask in advance to avoid conflict.
  • Often hot water is available on trains & airplanes, so you can bring dehydrated or freeze dried meals on board and make them easily. Sandwiches work well for your outbound journey and you might think about bringing canned food for the way home. Check customs regulations before you make your meal plan; many countries have restrictions on fresh fruits and vegetables, meat and dairy products.
  • If you’re heading on a cruise, call the company beforehand and ask about medical care and food accommodations on board the ship. Some companies are really good at accommodating food allergies.

When you travel in the wilderness:

  • If you have allergies, it’s probably best if you don’t travel alone. At the very least, have someone who knows your route plan and have regular check-ins so that they know where you are and whether you’re safe.
  • Bring some form of emergency beacon, satellite phone, GPS or all three, so that if you should have a reaction, you can get help.
  • Bring lots of auto-injectors. Call the local health authorities in advance to find out what they recommend in terms of what you should bring.

Finding safe food in other countries:

  • Labelling laws differ between countries! Look out for what regulations are in place.
  • Many products change recipes from country to country, so READ THE LABEL EVERY TIME. For example, a popular soda brand tastes different internationally & a UK version of a popular energy drink in Canada contains apple juice.
  • It might be safest to cook food from scratch, rather than buying pre-packaged food or eating at a restaurant.

Don’t give up!

Even with multiple severe food allergies, it is possible to travel. Hopefully these tips will help you to get out there, and explore the world!

Happy Travelling,

-Janice

Why All the Anti-Allergy Public Backlash?

Ah, I see you’ve met someone who isn’t entirely sympathetic or has a very archaic view of a food allergy. It doesn’t matter what point you are at in life or where you are in the world, it’s bound to happen. It’s hard not to get angry and fight fire with fire, but sometimes you have to be the bigger person, count to ten and try your best to explain.

A story: I was recently on a plane heading back to Canada after a wonderful vacation. Being the prepared person that I am, I had informed the airline of my food allergy and was allowed to board early to wipe my seat down and speak with the flight crew. As people began to board (my family included), the flight attendant came over to us and created a sort of buffer zone, informing those around me they had to refrain from ordering or eating anything with peanuts/tree nuts. Great, right? Apparently not, because not even Captain America’s shield could save me from the daggers the woman in front of me was throwing. When the flight attendants came around with the food cart an hour later she tried to order something with tree nuts and was angry when she couldn’t. She turned around and shook her head at me while muttering to herself that people like me shouldn’t fly.

So, what’s the deal with anti-allergy backlash? I’ve had my share (as I’m sure many have) of negative responses and backlash regarding my food allergies. People can be callous or have little respect when it comes to things they don’t understand or don’t want to understand. It’s not something you can control, and it’s not something you wished upon a star for, but people seem to lash out regardless. It might be the restrictions on where you can enjoy your favourite snack or what you can put in your child’s lunchbox for school that has people so upset. The reality is, parents have to deal with the very real reality that a simple food can cause serious harm. Their kids then turn into adults who are hyper aware of their food and surroundings because of this constant threat. Trust me, being an adult with a food allergy is no walk in the park. It leaves me with more questions about my food than the ending of Sixth Sense.

If I can stand on a soapbox for a second, I urge you to cast your doubt and negative feelings aside for people who have little understanding of a food allergy. I instead ask you to extend the olive branch and help them understand the seriousness of a food allergy. Implore them to put themselves in your shoes. Think of yourself at a hockey game, enjoying the rush of a crowd cheering, your favourite player skating down the ice on a breakaway, you catch your breath, not because of the shot, but because from the corner of your eye you see someone eating peanuts and throwing the shells on the floor. Try to imagine the very real and scary aspect of the situation. You ask kindly and respectfully that they refrain from throwing shells or eating beside you. As that person, instead of jumping straight to anger for not being able to enjoy the salty snack, try sympathy for a situation they physically can’t alter or change but you can. You have the opportunity to be the winning player in that game, there may not be a trophy or medal in the end but know that you’ll have the eternal gratitude of someone.

If you’re interested in knowing more about allergy backlash check out the articles below.

– Arianne.K

http://allergicliving.com/2010/07/02/food-allergy-backlash-grows-1/

http://allergicliving.com/2010/07/02/hot-topics-food-allergy-backlash/